Eating slowly at the dinner table rather than bolting your food down will keep you slim and make dining a far more enjoyable experience, a new study has found.

The research, which is the first scientific proof that eating slowly means eating less, showed that women took in about 70 fewer calories when they were told to take their time eating pasta, compared to when they ate the same meal as quickly as possible.

Kathleen Melanson, assistant professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Rhode Island, in the US, worked with 30 college-age women to provide evidence that this 30-year-old theory has merit.

She said: "It started in 1972 as a hypothesis that eating slowly would allow the body time for the development of satiety [fullness], and we would eat less. Since then it has become common knowledge, but no studies had been conducted to prove it."

When the women were told not to pause between bites, they averaged 646 calories in nine minutes. The same meal - pasta with tomato and vegetable sauce and Parmesan cheese - contained only 579 calories when participants put their forks down between bites and chewed, finishing in 29 minutes. An hour later, the second group still felt full from their meal.

Ms Melanson said: "Satiety signals need time to develop. Not only did the women take in fewer calories when they ate more slowly, they also had a greater feeling of satiety at meal completion and 60 minutes later, which suggests there are benefits in eating slowly."

Eating at a more measured pace can help maintain weight and even promote weight loss, especially if it is done three times a day, she said. That could lead to 210 fewer calories daily.

The research came as David Cameron, the Conservative leader, yesterday backed The Independent on Sunday campaign for a return to family Sunday lunches.